SEO and URL Forwarding
March 16, 2017 9:26 AM   Subscribe

I'm a professor in a dance department. We're making a new gallery website. As a recruitment tool, we want to improve our Google search hits when people search for the phrase "dance departments." The URL for the site is a long bureaucratic monstrosity. But we've also bought the domain If we distributed and had it bounce to the long university URL, does that diminish our SEO—that people searching for "dance department" would find us any less than if we had distributed the long URL? Thanks so much for any guidance.
posted by Mitchla to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
There is essentially no SEO benefit to what you propose. The university URL is what will be indexed.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:48 AM on March 16

Sorry, I should have been clearer. I'm not looking for a benefit in using the short URL, I'm looking for the absence of a detriment. I'm imagining high school students looking for dance departments telling their friends that they saw a cool a cool website and to check it out— That can never happen with an impossibly long university URL. It's just for word-of-mouth that I was hoping to use the short URL, but wanted to make sure that doing so wouldn't hurt our search result ranking. Thanks very much.
posted by Mitchla at 10:22 AM on March 16

As a university IT person, irrespective of SEO benefits, you ought to make sure that your university policies allow you to do such a thing, too.
posted by rachelpapers at 10:59 AM on March 16

As another university IT person I can say this is a no-go where I work. You could get an .org, but .coms are out.

That said, to answer the question, it partly depends on how you are doing the redirect.

If you put a page at that does an actual redirect, and put it as a 301 (not a 302) you'll be fine. If you park a domain on the existing domain (having two domains point to the same content) you would perhaps take a hit? I doubt it though.

Here's the thing about SEO: As long as you aren't trying to game the system you'll be fine. SEO is voodoo, and if you try to get the best score it can count against you in the long run. Used to be people wanted any backlinks for example, but then google started to count any that weren't considered high quality against the site (for example).

Here's the other thing about SEO: Get two experts to agree. Someone else will give you entirely contrary advice to mine, but mine is to ignore the SEO entirely and just concentrate on building a quality site. Age and content will matter way more.

Google themselves publish an SEO guide. Beyond that, familiarize yourself with their webmaster blog.
posted by cjorgensen at 11:20 AM on March 16 [2 favorites]

> As a university IT person, irrespective of SEO benefits, you ought to make sure that your university policies allow you to do such a thing, too.

Unless I'm mistaken, there's nothing to stop a random person from buying a domain name and forwarding it wherever they want. Source: I bought an annoying local business's expired domain and forwarded it to the Quackwatch article on their business model.

Just curious how IT would get involved in this? Seems more like a PR/marketing issue of promoting/sharing an unapproved domain name?
posted by paulcole at 11:33 AM on March 16

Here's a UNC entity that does what you describe, in case it helps for research purposes. I don't know how this setup has affected their search rankings, but maybe you can get some idea yourself.

is forwarded to

...there's nothing to stop a random person from buying a domain name and forwarding it wherever they want.

That's true, but communicating about the domain name, and making sure it's maintained in the future, is doubtless subject to university policy. Even if nobody "forbids" sharing the information, they'd want the ability and funding to create brochures and other media mentioning it, and they'd want, maybe, the admissions office to share the information.
posted by amtho at 11:55 AM on March 16

I do SEO for a living (white hat, etc etc etc). Your .com URL will never, ever rank higher than a .edu domain. Ever. University domains have the highest "domain authority" there is, and will always rank higher in search results than a new website.

The best, easiest and cheapest way to rank high in search results is to create social media profiles for your dance department. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram all tend to show up on the first page of search results, especially if they are updated often.

You should create all of them, but for a dance studio, Facebook and Instagram seem like the obvious ones to focus on. However, even Twitter can help if you use whatever hashtag is popular in your geographic region (the city I live in uses the hashtag for our airport code).

I do not think creating a Facebook page would violate any IT rules at your university, although I suppose the communications and PR department might get its nose out of joint.

Still, since we're talking about bureaucracy, which is concerned with the needs of bureaucracy, rather than the needs of the internal stakeholders it is supposed to serve, setting up social media profiles that actually show up in search may be one of those cases of "It's easier to ask forgiveness than to beg for permission."
posted by My Dad at 12:44 PM on March 16 [3 favorites]

Irrespective of search ranking, having a clean vanity URL is nice for branding. You can put it on posters/flyers, in radio announcements, etc.
posted by radioamy at 2:27 PM on March 16

It's not that university policy prohibits forwarding by outsiders. It's that they restrict the use of non-proprietary domains and web hosts to protect the university brand. Many have explicit vanity domain policies. They can of course enforce such rules on their own employees.

This is "ask the IT folks how to proceed" territory. Don't freelance it.
posted by spitbull at 5:43 PM on March 16 [3 favorites]

Totally agree with MyDad above. (This is also what I do for a living.)

If IT agrees, you can use that "easy to remember" domain as a vanity URL and have it redirect to the .edu page. That wouldn't hurt the site rankings. Please feel welcome to memail me for more information if it'd help.
posted by hapaxes.legomenon at 9:43 PM on March 16 [1 favorite]

Thank you so much for your help, everyone. A lot of good counsel there and I appreciate your taking the time to respond.
posted by Mitchla at 6:48 AM on March 17

One more bit of counsel. You say you're an assistant professor, which i assume means tenure track. Why is this your responsibility? Be aware that service of this sort is generally thankless when tenure time rolls around.
posted by spitbull at 6:52 AM on March 17

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